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How To Find and Book Star Alliance Awards Not Showing Up on United.com

by on April 1, 2014 · 40 comments

in ANA, star alliance, TPG Contributors, United

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TPG Contributor Jason Steele has noticed a dearth of Star Alliance awards that should be showing up when trying to search through United.com. Curious, he investigated further, and this is what he found out about where to find the Star Alliance awards you need and how to book them.

As award search engines go, the one on United.com can be pretty good. It is far better than sites like  Delta’s, which returns limited results that are rarely reliable, or US Airways, which shows no partner award flights at all (well, except American now). Nevertheless, I have found that a significant number of partner award flights are not appearing on United.com lately, even when searching individual flights rather than complicated connections.

Ah, United.com, you used to be so useful!

Ah, United.com, you used to be so useful!

Something is Missing

I knew that trying to book a summer trip to Europe for my family of four would be a challenge, especially at this late date. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the pretty much non-existence of saver level partner award seats shown as available on United.com on flights operated by other carriers, though I found plenty of Lufthansa saver space. Rather than chalk it up to the peak summer travel season, I decided to investigate whether or not the website of fellow Star Alliance member ANA airlines of Japan was showing partner flights that United.com was not.

How to search for Star Alliance award seats using the ANA web site

Using the ANA web site to search for Star Alliance award seats is not that hard, but there are a few tricks. First you must sign up for a free account and log in. You can sign up here.

After logging in, you will need to find their award search page, which is surprisingly difficult. So after logging in, I go to this link. Here, you will find the award search home page, but if you have no miles in your account, the option to search Star Alliance partners will be grayed out.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.39.31 PM

To work around this issue, simply perform any search for ANA International Flight awards:

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.40.16 PM

Next, you will see the results, but with the option to use Star Alliance Member Airlines:

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.43.08 PM

From there, you can make as many partner searches as you want without going through this process again.

For more information on this workaround, see How to Use the ANA Award Tool to Search Star Alliance Award Availability.

United.com Versus ANA

United.com should be a great site to search for Star Alliance award space. They claim to display most partner award seats, and their search engine is fairly good at finding routes involving one or even two connections, sometimes too good (No, I do not want to fly from Denver to Chicago with a 25-minute connection in Moline, IL).

On the other hand, ANA’s site is so accurate at finding award space, it is essentially the gold standard. If you can find Star Alliance award space on ANA’s site, it should be bookable with other Star Alliance partners. Likewise, if a seat appears on a Star Alliance carrier’s site but not on ANA’s, then it is almost certainly un-bookable “phantom space”.

The problem with ANA’s site is that it really doesn’t piece together connecting flights very well. It is up to you to find out which airlines offer service along a particular route, and methodically search ANA’s site on your own. Thankfully, ANA.com returns results very quickly, and it will even display space available over a seven-day period.

However, no matter how you find the award space, if it does not appear on the site of the airline you have miles with, you will need to call to book the flights. One thing phone agents sometimes say is that airlines release different award space to different partners, but that’s simply not the case in terms of these Star Alliance saver awards. Airlines might hold more award space for their own frequent flyer program members, as Singapore’s KrisFlyer does, but if you find award space on ANA, United agents should be able to see it as well. And if the agent you get can’t see it, or refuses to investigate further, hang up and call again.

Where United.com is Not Showing Space

I looked at the 25 other members of the Star Alliance in order to see if award space available on ANA’s site appeared on United.com. In most cases it did, but there were several significant exceptions:

ANA

ANA’s long-haul space appeared to be available at United.com, but their short-haul service was often invisible without a long-haul connecting flight being part of the search. For example, I could find this flight below from San Francisco to Nagoyo, Japan, via Tokyo’s Narita airport:

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.44.56 PM

But searches for flights from Narita to Nagoyo turn up empty:

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.45.53 PM

LOT Polish Airlines

Not that long ago, LOT Polish Airlines seemed to have some of the best intra-European and transatlantic award availability within the Star Alliance, and their award seats frequently appeared when searching United.com. Thankfully, the award space is still there, you just have to search elsewhere for it.

For example, as of the time of this writing, there are still two available business class award seats on many flights this summer between Warsaw and New York JFK on their 787s according not to United, but to ANA.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.47.33 PM

Singapore Airlines

Last December, United.com stopped showing award space on Singapore, that is what little award seats that Singapore actually made available to its partners. United blamed Singapore and Singapore denied it, but none of this bickering made it any easier for customers to find the award space they desired. Thankfully, ANA continues to reliably show those rare, coveted Singapore awards. Award availability in premium cabins is still tight, but if you can find it on ANA, you should be able to book it through United.

South African

I found several instance of long haul flights on South African that appeared on ANA but not on United.com. For example, this flight from London to Johannesburg showed up on ANA.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.50.25 PMNevertheless, these flights were absent from United.com. The only options that showed up were these on Egypt Air and Turkish Airlines.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.52.13 PM

To confirm the award is actually bookable, I called United’s MileagePlus customer service center. The representative I spoke with verified the award seats I saw on ANA and quoted me a price of 60,000 miles and $265.30 for the award, plus another $25 telephone booking fee.

Thankfully, the problem did not appear to affect the short-haul and domestic South African flights that I looked at.

Shenzhen Airlines

Shenzhen Airlines is China’s fourth-largest carrier, but don’t expect to find any of their award space on United.com. For example, award flights between Guangzhou (CAN) and Sheyang (SHE) were available on every flight I viewed on ANA’s site, but United only showed connecting flights operated by Air China.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.54.17 PMI realize that Shenzhen might not be what you’re looking for, but if you’ve got a trip planned in China, it’s nice to know all your options!

Non-alliance partners

Outside of the Star Alliance, United is partnered with several other airlines. Here is what I found when I searched for award flights on United.com

Aer Lingus, Aeromar and Island Air

I was able to find award space for these airlines on United.com.

Cape Air

Cape Air is a small carrier that operates flights in New England, Montana, Missouri, and the Caribbean, but their award space does not appear on United.com

Great Lakes

Great Lakes is a regional carrier with hubs in Denver and Los Angeles, but their award seats do not appear on United.com. You can use miles on United flights operated by Great Lakes Airlines that connect to a United flight to or from Denver.

Hawaiian Airlines

MileagePlus awards are only valid for inter-island flights, but those award seats do appear on United.com

Jet Airways

Jet Airways is the second largest carrier in India, but their award space is not visible on United.com

Tips for booking awards on United and other Star Alliance partners

1. Call to book seats that are only found on ANA. If the award seats you want appear on ANA, but not on United.com, Aeroplan, or any other partner site, be sure to call the airline in order to have them ticket it. For example, USAirways.com (now part of Oneworld but retaining several Star Alliance partners) never shows any partner award space (except American Airlines now), and travelers must always call to book any itinerary that contains at least one partner flight.

2. Use United.com to search connecting flights. While it would be ideal to search each for awards on flight individually using ANA, that can be very time consuming. For example 12, of the 26 carriers in the Star Alliance offer transatlantic service, which encompasses over 100 city pairs. Thankfully United.com is fairly good at putting together two flights, but it has a harder time with three. Rarely, will it put together four flights.

3. Search for flights to or from hubs. When trying to find award space, I find it most effective to limit my searches to city pairs with a single connection, limit. For example, if I am looking to fly from Denver to Milan and willing tolerate three legs to my itinerary, I might search United.com for flights from Denver to Star Alliance hubs in Europe such as Frankfurt, Brussels, and Vienna. Or, I could search between Milan to Star Alliance hubs in North America such as Newark, Chicago, and Toronto.  This allows United.com to piece together just two flights, one being transatlantic. Then, I can look for the remaining short-haul legs individually.

4. Use Air Canada’s Aeroplan, but don’t trust their search results. In the wake of the recent United.com devaluation, and despite undergoing a devaluation of its own, Air Canada’s Aeroplan program can be very valuable. For example, a business class partner award to Europe that now costs 140,000 miles with United is only 90,000 miles with Air Canada, with one-way awards now available for half price. Nevertheless, you will have to pay hefty surcharges on Air Canada’s own flights as well as most partners except Air China, Brussels Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, EVA, Scandinavian, Singapore, Swiss, Turkish, and United. There are fuel surcharges for LOT Polish, but they are fairly low. For example, I was able to book Milan to JFK via Warsaw for $160.10. The problem is that Air Canada’s award search engine is not that great. It didn’t reliably show the LOT awards that I found on ANA, and I was forced to pay a $30 telephone booking fee to have one of my awards ticketed.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 9.12.23 PM5. Try piecing together available awards as a multi-city itinerary. Just because United.com, and other airlines’ award search engines, won’t piece together the flights you found, it doesn’t mean that you can’t try to do so yourself. Ticketing the award online can save you telephone booking fees, as well as the time and hassle required to deal with airline customer service centers.

Star Alliance Partners Awards Visible On United.com

Here is a brief rundown of what I found on my own United.com searches and which of its Star Alliance and other partners’ awards are searchable and bookable online.

Partner Short-Haul Long-Haul
Adria Airways Yes N/A
Aegean Airlines Yes N/A
Air Canada Yes Yes
Air China Yes Yes
Air New Zealand Yes Yes
ANA No Yes
Asiana Yes Yes
Austrian Yes Yes
Avianca Yes Yes
Brussels Airlines Yes Yes
Copa Airlines Yes Yes
Croatia Airlines Yes N/A
Egyptair Yes Yes
Ethiopian Yes Yes
EVA Yes Yes
LOT Polish Airlines No No
Lufthansa Yes Yes
Scandinavian Airlines Yes Yes
Shenzhen Airlines No N/A
Singapore Airlines No No
South African Airways Yes No
Swiss Yes Yes
TAM Airlines Yes Yes
TAP Portugal Yes Yes
Thai Yes Yes
Turkish Yes Yes

 

Non-alliance partners

Partner Short-Haul Long-Haul
Aer Lingus Yes Yes
Aeromar Yes N/A
Cape Air No N/A
Great Lakes No N/A
Hawaiian Airlines Yes (not eligible for awards)
Island Air Yes N/A
Jet Airways No No

How have your own experiences using United.com lately been? Feel free to share your thoughts and tips in the comments below.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Lisa Damiano

    Hello, the first link you list (to sign up for ANA) takes me to an avios.com webpage rather than an ANA webpage. Is that a mistake? I just went to the ANA home page and clicked on sign up instead of using that first link you posted. Please let me know if that’s incorrect.

  • clvus

    Singapore air has always shown up on Uniteds award availability.
    I travel to SE Asia a lot and all partners on those routes show up. There’s lots of options in this sector, ( prob flown 7 diff airlines the last 2 years) even more now that EVA has joined.
    American is the airline that refuses to show other airlines in their award search. Don’t knock United, they have the beast award availability!

  • stuart

    Brian, could you do an article like this about how to find partner availability and One World availability not showing up on BA’s website? I find their website so frustrating and have wasted so much time using it.

  • jack

    Had this issue trying to book DEN-ZRH for my girlfriend in June, no saver availability anywhere online.. had to call united to force DEN-IAH-FRA-ZRH on the last available XN fare IAH-FRA.

    Saved 12.5k miles (if it were two bookings) and 30k (if paying the standard), but paid $25 extra for the phone booking. I took it as a win.

  • Tom

    I wanted to chime in and recommend KVS. Unfortunately its not free. But I found a $20 2-month membership completely worth it. I spent MANY hours using ANA, united, and others trying to piece together 4 coach tickets on a multi segment Europe trip for this summer. It was painful. So I gave KVS a shot and was able to find options and flights VERY quickly. I’ve also used it to check seat availability on domestic flights and identify flights for Oktoberfest.

  • Jason Steele

    Unfortunately, Singapore space no longer appears since the carrier’s apparent spat last December. I would also beg to differ that UA has the best award availability. I am constantly amazed by AA’s domestic availability, especially when I search on BA which indicates how many seats are being offered. In contrast, hub to hub flights on UA are often sold out for days on end, many months in advance. So even when I get a transatlantic Star Alliance award, I have to use Southwest to reach my domestic gateway from Denver.

  • s

    is there fuel surcharges for LOT Polish using United miles ?

  • Pizza

    Its funny I just did the exact same search for Shenzhen airline from CAN to SHE, I was able to see plenty couch award spaces, but no business. Does Shenzhen Air even have business seats or all their fleets are couch seats only?

  • Bill Rubin

    Same thing happened here. The link to ANA’s mileage club is bad in this article. Please fix!

  • Martin

    Thanks for this valuable post, Jason — for the information, the clear instructions, and the exhaustive comparisons.

  • Jason Steele

    Sorry about that, its fixed!

  • Jason Steele

    United does not have fuel surcharges, but it does charge 140,000 for partner awards to Europe in business class. So it made sense for me to pay $160 (most, but not all being fuel surcharges) to Air Canada to save 25k one/way.

  • Jason Steele

    It does appear that most of their aircraft have 8-12 business class seats, but some don’t have any.

  • Jason Steele

    Glad you liked it!

  • Bart Pawlik

    Hey guys is it just me or does the ANA site show a lot smaller required mileage for travel than United or even Star Alliance official mileage chart – for instance ORD to FRA for June 1st coming back the 6th is 43000 miles in economy. LOT Polish for business one week earlier ORD to WAW shows business for 85000 miles. Shouldn’t those be 60000 and 105000 respectively?

  • NinaK

    How do we know if the award availability we find on ANA is for saver or standard awards? I did a search for NYC to ATH and it’s showing economy availability on ANA but United shows no saver awards for the dates I chose.

  • Robert

    I am just looking at WAW – JFK flight on 11/19 and 12/2. Business class costs barely 68K miles and eco. 43K miles which makes such trip way less expensive in terms of points at least. Since I only have 1000 miles deposited, I am unable to get the amount of taxes/fees/charges.

  • thepointsguy

    This 4 part series on ANA taxes and fees may be helpful – http://thepointsguy.com/2013/04/overview-of-ana-award-taxes-and-fees-part-2/ let me know if you have any other questions!

  • Rob philip

    Using ANA allowed me to discover that LX actually has award space on a flight I want. A phone call to United revealed that they couldn’t see *any* award space past today. They suspect a glitch and “corporate” has been informed….

  • Rob philip

    @Jason Steele: Do you, perchance, have a link for ANA *domestic* award searches. For the life of me I cannot find one, and have an ANA domestic flight that United claims has no business award seats. I can’t imagine this is true and would like to check, but the ANA website has managed to hide domestic awards sufficiently well that I cannot figure out how to search for them… :)

  • Robert

    I must admit that ANA’s searching tool is not as much user friendly as the one at United.com. At the beginning, I used to get frustrated by the results or rather said ‘lack of desired flights’. Maybe it is just a matter of being used to one or other?! Now it is slowly becoming my main airline for transfers from SPG and/or Membership Rewards, especially when I can receive better flight options for NYC-VCL (via ZRH) to see El Clasico – Copa del Rey :)

  • Kioly

    I don’t like to pimp other people’s blogs, but MMS has an 11-part series called “Book American Airlines Award Flights Like a Pro” that probably covers what you’re looking for.

  • Martin

    One problem with searching united.com for availability on partner airlines happens with multi-leg trips with long layovers. If this happens, try dividing your itinerary into parts and doing a multi-city search instead. That is, instead of searching for a four-leg one-way trip, search for it as a two-part multi-city trip of two legs each (use your second layover airport as the intermediate destination/origin city). Why this works I don’t know, but it finds seats that some one-way searches don’t, and at the one-way price.

  • Robert

    Thank you! I can see that I’d have to stay away from SN as well as form OS for a flight from jFK to any place in EU through their capitals :)

  • dealspin

    In case you’re interested, I did a similar post with a bunch of workarounds for problems found on United.com: http://dealspin.com/7-common-problems-many-people-encounter-trying-book-award-tickets-united-com/

  • shay peleg

    Aeroplan 90K awards are only to the western parts of europe btw

  • disqus_3J49Yzsv8S

    What’s the deal with TK long haul award space? No JFK or IAD to IST nonstop award space? just LH connections

  • Yichuan

    ANA flies domestic from Haneda mostly. So no flight from NRT to Nagoya is not an appropriate counterexample for not showing NH short haul. In fact, short haul, mostly from HND, does show up.

  • budugu

    Hi I am trying to see if there is any availability from NYC to HYD (IND) in business class for 9MAY to 26MAY and for love of god cannot seem to find if there is any. Do you know how i can find availability for this?

  • Henry

    i have been using aeroplan to book flights from Australia to Europe, it has been the best so far. Does anyone know similar sites like aeroplan for oneworld partners?

  • Eric

    Does anyone see any Singapore TPAC awards on ANA? For SFO-HKG I see SQ in the results but I never see a flight with an award available.

  • Thomas Slaugh

    Why are Star Alliance flights more expensive when booking through United than through the direct carrier? Example, I’m looking at flights from Istanbul to Dalaman on Turkish Airlines, $238 RT, but when I look at United it’s $629!

  • Lissthree

    This was a really helpful article and worked exactly as outlined. I’m actually a Velocity member and I used it to see if Air New Zealand offered award seats on their directAuckland to Vancouver flights but every mock date I entered from Dec 22 this year up to May 19 next year( and I entered about 20 different dates) NONE showed up, only the very occasional AKL to SYD flight sector where I was re routed to LAX first( not helpful as I’m an Aussie already departing SYD for AKL !
    Does this mean AIr NZ just don’t release award seats to their partner airlines on this route and I am wasting my time and energy trying to figure out a pattern of when they release them to their partner airlines , considering that they consistently show as having at least 4 available on expert flyer for their own members?

  • Outbreak

    Hey! Thanks for the above! It works great just found some awards between JFK and WAW that does not come up on United.
    Now here is a question.
    I just booked a trip for end of Jan 2015
    EWR>YYZ>IST>MLE and return MLE>IST>CAI>JFK
    I did not know about the ANA search when I booked it.
    I now tried to search ANA website and can not find these connections, and for that matter any others.

  • DC

    why does UAL insist on manipulating partner award availability??

  • blabla

    AV availability on united.com is fairly limited compared to ANA website e.g. there is not a single award ticket visible on BCN-BOG route in Y, whereas ANA website shows tons of availability

  • MartyRL

    Tried this – didn’t work for me. Tried to search for flights from SFO to FRANKFURT : *We are sorry to inform you that there are no applicable direct or connecting flights. (Error Code: W_B43) and got the message When I know there are flights.

  • ASH

    When I tried to sign up for an ANA account, it keeps asking me for a valid Japanese cell phone number. Anyone else have that prob?

  • Derek

    I like the part under the LOT section that says “Thankfully, the award space is still there, you just have to search elsewhere for it.” Then the article goes on and never explains where to look, even though it shows some sort of screen shot. Thanks for being so informative and helpful in explaining that you can search for LOT award space, but not explaining how or where.

  • Noa

    I can’t seem to enter flights starting at Tel Aviv. Is there no hope for Israelis for this trick?

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